Jen Cluff ~ Gold Flutes

Canadian Flutist and Teacher




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buying a Flute Article

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buying a Flute Article

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buying a Flute Article

 

Gold, Silver, Platinum, Titanium......um.....Unobtainium; do you need a flute made out of expensive materials?


In the never-ending debate on whether gold, silver or platinum (or other exotic metals) enhances the sound qualities of the flute, I thought it might be interesting to offer up a series of links that discuss this topic.

See if any of these articles interest you:
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1. Tests demonstrating that experienced flutists cannot tell the flute's metals apart:

http://iwk.mdw.ac.at/Forschung /english/linortner/linortner_e .htm
 

2. The original (older)Coltman document concerning the effects of materials used in flute making (summary: any material can be made to sound well if the flute maker takes a great deal of care in workmanship):

http://ccrma.stanford.edu/marl/Coltman/documents/Coltman-1.06.pdf

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Robert Dick's comments on the Geneva Flute Competitions gold players not projecting sufficiently to judges seated farther back in auditorium:

http://www.larrykrantz.com/geneva.htm

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James Galway's three samples of the opening phrase of Syrinx played on platinum, 24k gold and a silver Yamaha 400 in which it's very hard to tell the instruments apart:

http://www.thegalwaynetwork.com/vanclass/ubcclass.htm

Click on platinum, gold, silver when you arrive at the above site.
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After Much Discussion:

Here's a brief summary of year long discussion on FLUTElist that included over 70 contributers (teachers, professional players, headjoint makers, students):

The difference between a gold, a silver, and a headjoint made of any
other material is often not only subjective on the part of the player, but also a question of there being no two headjoints exactly alike even when they ARE made of the same materials.

Handcut headjoints made by experts typically sound better than cheaper, factory cut headjoints.
Carefully finished headjoints typically sound better than hastily finished headjoints.

But even among almost identical headjoints made by the same headjoint craftsperson, no two are exactly alike.

Every year we answer this question of gold vs. silver quite a few times, and here are some of the more interesting bits and pieces of answers I've seen on the internet over the years:

1. There is a Scientific American article from '98, entitled "Unsound Reasoning" by Karla Harby regarding headjoint materials and their sound qualities.
If it is still available on the net in PDF for reading online at:

http://www.karlaharby.com/Flute.pdf

When you arrive at the above PDF file, scroll down to page 2 to see "Unsound Reasoning" article.
Its summary?
No two headjoints are alike, and even concrete flutes can sound like wooden flutes in a blind listening test. Galway is quoted in the article as saying that gold and platinum flutes play better probably because the flute builders are more careful and spend more time when handcrafting expensive materials into top-of-the-line flutes.

2. Rampal is said to have picked up a silver flute, in a documentary
interview, and said to the interviewer:
"This is the sound of a silver flute (plays).
This is the sound of a gold flute (plays same flute, making a different tone colour.)"

3. Galway also states in his PBS Biography that he cannot tell which flute (gold/silver/other) that he is playing on which CD. He simply can't tell them apart by listening.

4. Albert Cooper is said to have invited a group of flute specialists over one evening to try a new kind of flute material out. Blindfolded, each was handed the same flute and asked to guess the proportions of
"mystery" headjoint material by simply blowing on it and listening
carefully.
They guessed all sorts of things: 10% gold, 20% platinum etc. etc. After they'd all put in their guesses, Cooper revealed that he'd made this headjoint out of melted down kitchen saucepan.

Cooper's summary? It's not the material it's the craftsmanship.

5. My own theory? (by Jen :>)
Until CNC technology is used that will allow testers to test identical flute headjoint "embouchure cuts" in identical-in-all-respects headjoints made of different metals, there will probably not be a definitive answer to the gold and silver question.

All is conjecture, speculation and subjective opinion (some of which is very strong among those who love playing on gold.)

However, subjectively, most flute players who give an opinion come up with descriptions such as:

-The gold sounds warmer, darker, deeper, more complex.
- The silver sounds brighter, has more sparkle, more carrying.

No one knows for sure, since the most topnotch players can usually get both extremes of tone colour, like Rampal, out of a single headjoint.

Hope this helps.
If you're rich you can afford to experiment.
Be aware, however, that not all headjoints work on all flute bodies. You still have to try many headjoint cuts, brands and sizes to find the one that gives the best results on your flute.

If you're poor, get a decently made headjoint (have an expert flutist help pick one out) and practice lots of tone colours using embouchure techniques outlined by flute expert/authors:

Roger Mather, Ann Cherry, Robert Dick, Trevor Wye, etc.
A good book list of these authors can be found at:

reading.htm

Best,
Jen Cluff

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Copyright © 2006 Jennifer Cluff